Rage of the Dragon: Review

Rarely in life do you manage to actually find something that you’ve been looking for that hasn’t rotten to obscurity. However, in the case of a pair of movies, I uncovered one such thing that I’ve been hunting down for four decades. The thing is an old, bizarre kung fu movie called Rage of the Dragon. I received a tip from a redditor who provided an alternative name. More importantly, he gave me the name of the main actor which allowed me to quickly look up the proper movie name. From there, it didn’t take long to find a copy online of this gem.

Rage of the Dragon is a classic to me because it’s a Godfrey Ho project that has one of the fake Bruce Lee’s. Here, we get Dragon Lee, who in my estimation, is probably the biggest clown of the bunch. While Dragon Lee seems like one serious honcho you don’t want to mess with, all his movies are him doing his version of Bruce without the Jeet Kun Do style and more facials and body language. At the same time, paired with Godfrey Ho, Dragon Lee has made a few memorable movies, including another favorite of mine The Dragon, The Hero.

I did some research on the side about Godfrey Ho since this is the second movie that I fondly remember having both Dragon Lee and Mr. Ho’s name attached. One particular site had a tremendous article that discussed Godfrey Ho’s style and elements, most notably his use of ninjas (which do make an appearance in the film), emphasis on acting as opposed to facials and a very odd splicing technique where it’s said he used disparate footage that he would combine to create his films. With that in mind, I already had watched Rage of the Dragon three times in full in the past few days and each time, something new would stand out to me. But let me do a quick summary of this movie before I really break it down.

There is somewhat of a plot here that involves two martial artists from two different families. One family is Dragon Lee’s and the other is some snake style clown. The only other real major star in this flick is none other than Carter Wong, whom I barely remember being in this movie. Because I didn’t have a clear picture nor names prior to re-discovering this movie, I couldn’t guess beforehand just whom the hero and villain were. Also, I’ve typically associated Carter Wong as a heroic character, possibly because of seeing him the Shaw Brother’s production Marco Polo. Oddly, I’ve seen a few more Carter Wong movies that aren’t Big Trouble and Little Trouble and he ended up being the main villain but I digress.

The movie effectively is a kung fu version of a love triangle. In this case, it’s more like how the director tries to find ways for each family to get into a fight. The parents of Dragon Lee and the snake style clown are murdered by a mysterious masked man in a mine, which leads the snake style clown to accuse Dragon Lee’s father of murdering his own dad. Carter Wong tries to play innocent in all of this, acting like a hero but in truth sewing the seeds of doubt between both families that increase tensions between both sides as the movie progresses.

And what that translates to is just a mess of a film where you get transitions into sudden fight scenes with no context to fill in time for the lack of character and plot development. There’s a cast of oddballs like two goofy sidekicks to Dragon Lee, including one scrawny guy with a strange patch of dirt or a bruise on his nose that’s never explained. The majority of the choreography is downright rotten with very obvious edits. Only Dragon Lee and Carter Wong show some promise of actual kung fu while the rest appear like they’re making things up on the fly. The snake style guy supposedly should be a bad ass but he’s so wiry and awkward that all his moves are more comedic. There’s one particular fight in the middle between Dragon Lee and the snake style clown where it looks as though the director has sped up a few shots because of how awful the snake style clown guy is.

Gradually, all the people slowly dwindle down where even the snake style clown ends up jobbing to Carter Wong. Based on the initial way he’s presented, I would’ve thought that the route they wanted was for the snake style guy to team up with Dragon Lee. But perhaps he just was so awful and boring (not to mention a hard headed asshole) that he really deserved to die. Even when Carter Wong takes the guy out, I found it hard to have any sympathy for him because he kills Dragon Lee’s two goofy sidekicks and beats up a girl (Carter Wong’s sister in this flick).

Eventually, Dragon Lee learns from one of Carter Wong’s henchmen that Carter Wong had been responsible for Dragon Lee’s father’s murder. After uncovering his father’s body, Dragon Lee immediately goes to take revenge against Carter Wong but ends up jobbing at night. Carter Wong’s sister here begs to spare Dragon Lee’s life and oddly Carter Wong’s character shows pity!

That leads the sister to succor Dragon Lee as Dragon Lee plots revenge. Here’s where the story gets really murky. Dragon Lee’s character is very one dimensional. He almost has no personality and his only motives are to find his father’s killer then get revenge. Since the bad guy is the sister of Carter Wong, she attempts to dissuade Dragon Lee from his destiny. Yet it’s hopeless because Dragon Lee’s only real purpose is to kick everyone’s ass.

So the next day, the sister goes to see her brother and talk some sense into him as well. Here’s where we get some backstory for Carter Wong’s character. In a way, you have to feel a tiny bit of sympathy because his eyes are bad and apparently their mother was dirt poor and he “was forced to work 10 hours a day” to help their mother. So he ended up becoming ambitious, despite how in town he appears honorable and all that.

Before any resolution is made, Dragon Lee is heard outside busting up the home (i.e. followers) so Carter Wong swears to kill Dragon Lee for sure this time around. So the tiny amount of character development for Carter Wong’s character goes out the window as the climax is reached. We get a ridiculous looking fight that starts off with Carter Wong and Dragon Lee, then devolves into Wong’s followers joining the fray and having their literal ass getting kicked (I’m not joking! One guy actually has his ass kicked by Dragon Lee and proceeds to hop around for a minute before taking a fatal blow that looked less painful than the kick to the butt).

Once Dragon Lee disposes of this bunch, Carter Wong returns with…red hooded ninjas! WTF! This movie just makes no sense. This was completely out of the blue and I have to go back to that article that talks about Godfrey Ho’s ninja fetish combined with the notion of how he would just splice random pieces of footage together. That said, the last ten minutes of this movie (which really started when Dragon Lee showed up) is awesome. It’s just too ridiculous for words because it’s mostly Dragon Lee being like a dominant Sid Vicious in WCW during his 1990’s run where he squashes a bunch of jobbers. While Sid himself was never a great worker, his squash matches were immensely entertaining on the basis that some smaller goof would basically bump around for Sid.

Here, Dragon Lee is far more mobile than Sid but his antics are way over the top. But the absolute cherry on top are the crazy late 70s style trippy sound effects. Someone called it “moog sounds” for which I looked up and discovered it meant some sort of old keyboard. But yes, the blows that each characters make have these really peculiar sounds. Like Carter Wong’s arm flailing in the wind sounds like this bizarre whooshing noise. Or the snake clown’s hits have this hollow echo. But by far the best sound in the movie is whenever Dragon Lee uses what looks like a mantis style finger blow and you hear a Pacman arcade type of noise, like a electronic beep. It’s so funny because it completely defies the typical explosive sound a normal blow would make. The best part is when Dragon Lee delivers something like 5-6 consecutive beeps (not blows) to poor Carter Wong and that guy has to sell death for Dragon Lee.

But let me take another step back to describe some other really bizarre things in this movie. Part of Carter Wong’s character is that he has poor eyesight that’s affected by sunlight and wears sunglasses to aid in protecting them (which makes this film really strange because it’s impossible to pinpoint when these characters were around. The only other “modern” thing is a black and white photo of Dragon Lee’s father. So the fact that there’s all these murders going around and no police/accountability is a major issue to me). Early on, we seen him trying to grab a tea cup but missing while he’s bathed in blinding light during a discussion with Dragon Lee. So Dragon Lee realizes that Carter Wong’s weakness is his eyes, leading Dragon Lee to rip off his shirt just before he gets his ass totally kicked and show off a mirror shirt. And while there is a point that Dragon Lee has an epiphany on how to defeat Carter Wong, this shirt just comes out of left field. It’s effectively deux ex machina level WTF/literal plot armor.

Then poor Carter Wong must spend the next few minutes stunned, blinded and just selling for Dragon Lee as Dragon Lee goes ham on this guy. This is like watching someone talented like a Ricky Steamboat sell to death for a goofball like Chuck Taylor. It’s even worse with the Pacman sounds that makes Dragon Lee’s kung fu appear less effective (although insanely humorous). There’s a few points in the movie where Dragon Lee does some sort of pose and it sounds like the director is on some actual hardcore LSD trip.

That said, I love this movie for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe it’s all the right reasons because Godfrey Ho had to be aware of how ludicrous the film sounded once the “moog” noises made their way in. Did he just get some moog keyboard as a present and was like, “I’m going to change the kung fu movie landscape forever!” I will say this, I’ve never witnessed another movie with this level of nutty sounds. There’s a real why it’s so easily identifiable (if you know the name) just by describing certain scenes and the sounds. The first night I re-watched that end fight at least 20 times. I could not stop laughing and had to re-play the Pacman noise part at least 40 times in a row.

This isn’t what I would consider a good movie but it’s definitely one of those late night movies you could easily watch while under some sort of influence, being sick or just needing a break from reality. I’m certain I’ve seen this film in one of those conditions back in my youth because I could never forget certain images and definitely those sounds. It’s just so zany and oddly satisfying. If anything you have to watch the last 10 minutes of the movie. Most of the movie itself is pretty plodding with filler just to get to the fights (or that the fights are the filler to get to what we all want to see which is Carter Wong vs Dragon Lee). There is a plot in there somewhere and you can forget the characters.

Finally, there’s the awful dubbing. Not quite as humorous as the LSD Pacman sounds is the stupid dialog. Some parts are so bad you just can’t help but to laugh. It’s as though the writers didn’t bother to read a previous sentence and just tried to fill in what they could to match the mouth movements. This is one of those movies where the horrible voice over/dubbing actually helps the movie become that much better.

I don’t think Godfrey Ho purposefully set out to make a bad movie. This movie still works even though it inherently is flawed. But it isn’t a reprehensible movie like Megan is Missing where the whole thing is cringe and unwatchable with hateable characters. I do think they did Carter Wong’s character wrong though and he gets some sympathy from me because he’s the most developed personality in the film. And Dragon Lee isn’t the purist of heroes here. Just wooden when he’s not fighting. Of course, anyone seeking a movie like this out isn’t looking for great plots, acting and character development. They want crazy kung fu action and they certainly deliver on the crazy here.

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